That there is now a crisis engulfing England’s A&E services is indisputable. This crisis was made in 10 Downing Street and this crisis was avoidable. Inexplicably, this crisis is being ignored by a Health Secretary who, with each passing catastrophe, demonstrates his inability to run the NHS.
A recent Freedom of Information request submitted to the Department of Health shows that Jeremy Hunt had spent six months as Health Secretary before visiting his first A&E unit. When he finally got around to it, the A&E unit he visited was only yards from his own office.
David Cameron appointed Jeremy Hunt as Health Secretary – after the BSkyB debacle – with a view to installing an accomplished communicator in an attempt to salvage some political capital from the wreckage of Andrew Lansley’s Health & Social Care Act. The Prime Minister must surely regret this decision as both he and his Health Secretary continually fail to take a grip of a National Health Service, struggling with the chaos of the reorganization they recklessly imposed upon it.
This is an A&E crisis that has happened on David Cameron’s watch. When Labour left office, A&E was performing well with 98% of patients seen within 4 hours; but since the election, the number waiting over 4 hours has more than doubled, and ambulance queues have doubled too.
The Government’s devastating cuts to budgets for elderly care are a major cause of the A&E crisis. Fewer older people are getting the care they need at home, meaning more are having to be admitted to hospital, and more get stuck in hospital beds at the end of their treatment because the help isn’t there at home.
Hospitals are struggling to cope. Experts say A&Es don’t have safe staffing levels, and under David Cameron we’ve seen more than 4,000 nurses cut from the NHS.
The King’s Fund reported today that A&E waiting times are at a 9 year high, that trolley waits are at their highest level since 2004 and that two thirds of NHS finance directors blame social care cuts for the pressures in the system.
In addition, hospital regulator Monitor also reported today that the A&E crisis is having a detrimental hospital-wide impact, leaving cancer patients facing longer waiting times for treatment and resulting in the cancellation of countless operations.
It’s grim. We told the government that this would be the result of their policies; they didn’t listen but it doesn’t have to be like this.
To protect the NHS from the immediate crisis it faces, Labour would use the ‘underspends’ in the NHS budget to put an extra billion pounds into social care over the next two years (2013/14 and 2014/15). This extra investment would not only relieve the pressure on A&E; it would help tackle the scandal of care services being withdrawn from older people who need them – enabling more people stay healthy and independent in their own homes – and help families being squeezed by rising charges for care.
To strengthen the NHS for the future Labour will break down the barriers between health and care, bringing physical health, mental health and social care together into a single service to meet all of a person’s care needs – with services organised around patients, not patients around services
Jeremy Hunt and David Cameron fail to understand the real causes of the crisis facing the NHS: a chaotic reorganization, front-line job cuts, the disastrous introduction of the 111 service, the closure of NHS walk-in centres and the collapse of social care. This is a crisis made by a Prime Minister who didn’t understand the consequences of his own Health Act and a Secretary of State who increasingly gives the impression of being a man stuck in a job he doesn’t want.
At the time of writing, Jeremy Hunt has exiled himself from the airwaves. He is nowhere to be seen; seeking to evade accountability for the chaos he has helped to unleash.
Tomorrow, Labour will show the leadership the health service needs by hauling the Secretary of State from his self-imposed exile to face the House of Commons. This is not a time for sloping shoulders.
“Crisis? What crisis?”
Jamie Reed is a Shadow Health Minister